With the COVID-19 pandemic changing our very way of life, businesses are rethinking everything. More and more real estate professionals are working from home, which means while you once met with clients and colleagues face to face, you must now meet virtually. The good news is that platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts make it easy for team leaders to host sales meetings or agents to host client check-ins online. The bad news is that leading virtual meetings requires a skill set many practitioners may not have.
Remote meetings are inherently different from in-person meetings, and this means they are often poorly run. That’s a serious concern even in normal times, but in times like these, it can be disastrous. It’s crucial that agents and brokers get meetings right—right away.
Another bit of good news (which we need plenty of right now) is that well-run online meetings can be extremely beneficial. According to the Harvard Business Review, online meetings can be even more effective than in-person meetings when done right. Luckily, there are plenty of simple things you can do to make online meetings as impactful as possible.
- Don’t underestimate the socialization factor. There are various reasons to hold meetings: sharing information, brainstorming solutions, and coordinating activities. But one big reason is socialization. Remotely located teams need virtual meetings to build social bonds in order to work better together. And with the real estate business being built on relationships, agents need to use virtual meetings with clients to build trust. Right now, you may need to hold more meetings than usual because so many people are feeling isolated and disconnected. The more you can build a sense of community, the better everyone’s emotional health and work performance will be. A well-run meeting can actually be a bright spot in an otherwise dreary and depressing day.
- Establish the mood up front. Meeting attendees likely will be coming from a wide range of emotional spaces—many of them negative—when they arrive. Take control of their mindset and mood by facilitating casual conversation before the official start time of the meeting. Don’t let it be awkwardly silent or dominated by a side conversation between just a few of the many people on the line. You can’t not acknowledge the pandemic—that wouldn’t be authentic—but keep topics around it as positive as possible. You might ask if anyone has a funny story to share, or if they’ve seen a creative way their community is pulling together or giving back.
- Encourage meeting attendees to keep their cameras on. The effectiveness of meetings will increase exponentially if everyone has their cameras on, turning an audio call into a videoconference. This keeps people engaged because they know what they’re doing is visible to everyone else. These days, most of your participants will have sufficient bandwidth, and nearly all computers have cameras, so any barriers are largely matters of habit.
- Be strategic about sequencing of activities and announcements. The first item on your meeting agenda should be a restatement of the purpose of the meeting. After that, strategize on the sequence of your activities. For example, if there are any “elephant in the room” topics, deal with those early or they will be a distraction. If you have a fun or exciting announcement, you may want to hold it for the end, letting the participants know that it is coming but keeping the outcome a surprise to create suspense. If an agenda item may be intense or create some heated discussion, don’t address it at the top of the meeting. Get people warmed up and feeling productive first, then hit them with the challenging topic.
- Find creative ways to keep people engaged. Many online meeting platforms have the ability to issue multiple-choice polls and then show a graph of participant responses. The same can be done with chat questions. You could also make everyone a presenter, even if you simply ask them to read a slide to the group. Additionally, a breakout workshop allows more participation because people break into smaller groups to do work. Several of the major online meeting platforms, including Zoom and Google Hangouts, now offer breakouts.
- Try to give everyone a task. It’s possible for one person to present content, facilitate questions, ensure the meeting stays on time, and take notes—but why? Usually there are others who can take on some of these responsibilities. Seek to distribute the roles of facilitator, presenter, timekeeper, and note taker among the participants. If you have a standing meeting, it can be rewarding to rotate these roles to different members of the team for each meeting. Or, you may find someone “finds their home” with a particular role and wants to play it on an ongoing basis.
- Gear up with a good headset. If you will be participating in or leading online meetings regularly, purchase a headset that you plug into your device’s jack. A good headset will make your voice sound both clearer and richer and will eliminate more of the background noise.
- Keep your background visually clean and professional. Pay attention to what is visible behind you onscreen. Ensure the background is neat and professional. Alternatively, some tools such as Skype for Business will blur the background or allow you to automatically insert a substitute background, hiding the environment around you. Also, avoid bright areas of the background, such as a window on a sunny day, as this may put you into shadow.
- Sharpen your presenting skills. Use storytelling as an engagement tool. People tend to snooze when you start talking in bullet points. Keep it brief, and look to the meeting outcomes to determine what your audience really needs to know. Vary your tone, changing up your pitch, rhythm, and volume. It will make your presentation more interesting to listen to. And use body language, which can help convey your story.
- Wrap things up with a polished completion. Leave time in your agenda for at least a two-minute “ending” to the online meeting. As part of the ending, remind everyone what the objectives of the meeting are, and measure progress against the objectives. If the team fell short, indicate what the plan is to address the remainder. Thank the participants and especially anyone who presented or made a particularly big contribution, and ask the rest of the group to thank them as well. Applause is perfectly appropriate.